Civil engineer discusses STEM

By Jose Arebalo, Scene Editor

Students with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) majors gathered in GE-225 on Friday afternoon to listen to an informational seminar from civil engineer Tawfic Halaby.
Halaby has 17 years of experience as a civil engineer and is currently the senior civil engineer for the city of Richmond.
“It’s important to be open to everything that life has to offer. Try to always keep an open mind,” Halaby said.
The seminar was organized to provide insight to the day-to-day career that a civil engineer experiences.
Halaby has been volunteering his time with Contra Costa College’s Center for Science Excellence for about the past four years, program director Seti Sidharta said.
She said that they met through mutual colleagues and Halaby was eager to give some of his time to help engineering students.
“He has been able to help get students internships and hired now for a while,” Sidharta said.
The program is designed to support students through what Sidharta calls an “intimidating” career choice.
His presentation dealt with the day-to-day operations of working in that career field.
He said his duties include learning to work in large teams with multiple personalities, providing updates on projects and answering to the public. There are quite a few directions that engineering students can take, but Halaby’s work focuses on infrastructure and municipal engineering.
Projects vary from rerouting water canals to designing and constructing street intersections. Through his work, he “never expected to be in charge of multi-million dollar projects,” yet he is conscious of his position as a public servant.
Halaby shared how grateful he is to work in a such a rewarding position that allows him to contribute to impactful projects.
Halaby majored in chemical engineering at Purdue University for his undergrad work, but felt he needed to make a bigger impact with his career.
He went on to get his graduate degree in water treatment.
Halaby spent two years on his thesis, then spent a few years working as a consultant before finding himself working as a civil engineer.
He shared his story to assure students that the road to success isn’t as clear as it may seem.
After graduate school he earned his dream job, but in two short years he was fired for underperforming.
“I did what I thought I had to do, but it wasn’t for me,” Halaby said.
After being unemployed for a year, he found a career path in civil engineering, saying he “had to fail in order to succeed.”
With such a large focus on career goals, it was his wife telling Halaby to “get a life” that led to him exploring service outside of his work. Halaby started volunteering on educational service trips through the organization, Learning for the Empowerment and Advancement of Palestinians.
His efforts to give back led him to helping the campus community as well.
Students who might need support are helped tremendously by the guidance provided by program mentors.
Part of the job for civil engineers includes participating as a civil servant as well. That includes making sure that the public is aware of project progress.
“The public definitely cares. A lot of people come out to these meetings,” Halaby said.
Public interaction is an important part of the job, he said.
As the seminar ended, students were invited to have drinks and refreshments with Halaby, while assistant physics professor Chao Liu began to direct students to Halaby for questions.
“This is a great program to motivate students toward their career. They are able to ask for advice from professionals,” Liu said. “The program often brings back alumni from the program to share their experiences as young professionals as well.”
Students in the program also gain real industry experience by participating in intercollegiate competitions.
Liu hopes these activities will inspire young students.
Civil engineering student Yu Joon quickly joined the line to speak with Halaby. “It was really cool to learn about these municipal projects,” Joon said.
Joon attended the seminar to gain industry knowledge and pursue internship opportunities.
She was happy to learn about the importance of her field’s professional work.  “I used to see some messed up streets in my area and it was actually Halaby working on those projects and fixing the roads.” Joon said.